PM blinked twice today. A People’s Vote is still game on

by Hugo Dixon | 29.01.2019

Theresa May told her ministers they’d get another chance to stop “no deal” in two weeks – and she told MPs to vote against her own deal. She didn’t want to do either. But she had to do both to avoid humiliation in the Commons tonight.

The prime minister has kicked the can again. But she knows it’s futile. She’s going back to Brussels to persuade the EU to do open-heart surgery on the notorious “backstop” she herself agreed – after the bloc has made clear this is not on. This is a unicorn, a fantasy.

A spokesperson for the European Council president said tonight: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal agreement is not open for re-negotiation.”

May knew this even before she told MPs she would seek “significant and legally binding changes” to the backstop, which could keep us trapped in a bare-bones customs union with the EU with no say on its trade rules. This was a dishonest ploy to buy off hard Brexiters in her party.

Valentine present

At the same time, she bought off ministers opposed to “no deal”, such as Amber Rudd, by promising she would kick the can for only two weeks. She will make a statement to the Commons no later than February 13. MPs will get to vote on that no later than Valentine’s Day.

Crucially, this motion will be amendable. That means MPs will have another chance to take control of the parliamentary process.

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It was because of this concession that ministers didn’t rebel but, instead, decided to fight their corner from inside government. It was also because of this concession that the two most radical amendments – from the Tory Dominic Grieve and Labour’s Yvette Cooper – failed tonight.

MPs scared about crashing out of the EU with “no deal” realised that today was not “high noon”. In two weeks’ time, when the prime minister returns empty handed – as she surely will – they will have another chance to stop the madness.

It is a shame that the Grieve amendment, which proposed MPs would wrest control of the parliamentary process for six days starting on February 12, failed. But at least they will now get one day when they can call the shots no later than February 14 – and they can always then force the government to give them more.

Cart before unicorn

It is also a shame that the Cooper amendment, which sought to ram through emergency legislation to delay Brexit, failed. But this was always cart before horse – or, perhaps one should say, cart before unicorn.

Cooper wanted extra time if MPs couldn’t figure out what to do by the end of February. If her amendment had passed, there was a risk that MPs would have thought “job done” just because they had kicked the can. They now have to do the hard work of producing a proper plan (the horse) and then force the prime minister to ask for extra time (the cart).

This won’t be easy. But tonight it’s important to remember four things.

  • Parliament doesn’t want the prime minister’s deal. They overwhelmingly rejected it two weeks ago.
  • Her idea of reopening the deal is a unicorn.
  • The only good Brexits are fantasies; and the only realistic ones are bad.
  • MPs don’t want “no deal”. They made that clear by voting for Caroline Spelman’s amendment tonight.

We are in for a messy few weeks. But when all forms of Brexit have been tried and found wanting, MPs are still likely to back a People’s Vote as a last resort. It is the only sensible way forward.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

9 Responses to “PM blinked twice today. A People’s Vote is still game on”

  • Parliament has yet to grow a backbone, despite the efforts of heroic figures like Grieve and others, it sadly remains an invertebrate body.

  • Sadly a second referendum has joined the ranks of the Unicorns. The numbers are just not there in Parliament. As virtually all of them voted to send the idiot letter a delay is the best hope and that is not a gimme as Northern Labour M. P’s seem to have some issue

  • Glad you are keeping up the pressure for a second People’s Vote. But I wish you would give more attention to the question that should be on the ballot paper. What are the people to be asked to decide between? Should it be a straight choice between the “final” version of the Government’s deal (agreed by the EU) and Remain?

    What should Labour say when Mrs May comes back with this final version – presumably not much different from her present deal? Should they say something like “We don’t much like this deal, and we still think we could have got a better one if we had been in charge. But time is running out, and we certainly can’t accept No Deal. So in practice the only options open to us now are either to accept the Government’s deal, unsatisfactory as it is, or to revert to No Brexit, ie Remain.

    This is too big a decision for the country to be decided by Parliament alone, and we therefore now think it should be put back to the people for a second referendum or People’s Vote. We should ask the EU for an extension of the March deadline to enable the second referendum to take place.

    In such a Vote we expect there will be divided views in both main Parties as to which side to support. Labour do not propose to campaign as a party for one side or the other. We would however undertake in advance loyally to support and help to implement whichever side gain the majority amongst the people. We hope that other Parties would do the same.

    If the Government can secure the people’s support for their version of BREXIT in a People’s Vote Labour will undertake to help get it through Parliament against the Government’s own and the DUP. But if the people support Remain rather than the Government’s version of BREXIT we trust that all sides will respect that result and put their best efforts into making a success of reforming and strengthening the EU from within.”

  • A PV will only be necessary if we can’t get a deal through parliament
    If we do we should let oeolechave a final
    Say on that deal versus remain
    However that’s not Mays wish
    If no deal agree on it will have to be leave it stay – again
    We can’t vote for a deal that has been rejected by parliament and fircevthem to accept it ( if that option won)
    Very concerned that people think it’s a good idea – the PV will be nasty and set us against each other in battle again- people will become more entrenched instead of more open
    If it has to happen it happens but let’s not be excited about it or promote it for its own sake – it’s a last resort non solution – what happens with the result?

  • I have to say that I think that more goes on behind closed doors than we are made aware of. Corbyn’s agreement to talk to May (I’d love to be a fly on the wall!) may deliver something. If he is wise, he’ll agree to whip his MPs to back her deal (screw the DUP) in return for all sorts of concessions, including another election; but I doubt that he’ll do such. Pity, because he would then come out of it as the man of the moment. I would like to see another referendum but I have doubts that it will deliver a different verdict. Everyone is sick to death of Brexit and just wants it over, one way or another, so most will probably vote the same way as last time. As for Parliament, all MPs are looking after No 1, so will vote in whichever way guarantees their re-election. The good of the country as a whole is not top of their priorities.

  • Perhaps the pro-remain media could, unlike parliament, assemble / liaise, and develop a media program and publish freely, empirical evidence that offers the public a simple facts and objective understanding of the pros and cons of the various and salient proposals being thrown about by largely illiterate and self serving parliamentarians. Any document must only promote verifiable data – not unicorn, or cake and eat it fabrications. It must be concise and represent all sides of the argument.
    It appears that most of the general public is as confused as parliament – empirical, legitimate facts are lost in the swirl of political games. I am certain that the general public are both fed up with the machinations of May and her deliberate bending of facts.
    A clear, publicly delivered statement by serious, objective and ‘allied’ media at this crucial instance – able to spell out facts, not lies and deceit, may offer those who are ‘lost’ in May’s mess some direction.

  • @Diane
    “the PV will be nasty…”
    It will be less so if preceded by a number of regional Citizens’ Asemblies. Ireland has recently shown the way on this on the question of abortion – another contentious battleground where feelings run high.
    While the Citizens Assembly process is going forward, the rest of us can take a break from brexit, up with which we are all so very fed.
    After it has completed the People’s Vote can take place, but not nastily.
    If our government can devise a sound and specific plan for this then the other 27 will no doubt favourably consider a request for an extension of Art. 50 to accommodate it.

  • In case there were any doubt, May’s shenanigans yesterday demonstrated that her sole objective is keeping the Conservative party together with her at its head. Nothing else matters. Certainly not the national interest.


  • @John Morrison,

    If Corbyn whips his MPs to back the deal in exchange for concessions including an election he won’t be seen as the man of the moment, except. He’ll be seen as an opportunistic traitor who sold his country for thirty pieces of silver. Just about everybody hates the deal. It doesn’t give the leavers the freedom from the EU they voted for, and remainers know it’s a far worse deal than our current membership package.